Monday, March 30, 2015

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


Author: J.K Rowling
Genre: Supernatural, Children's
Type: e-audiobook
Series: #2 in the Harry Potter series
Source: Local Public Library's e-library
First Published (in paper form): August 2000
Narrator: Jim Dale
First Line: "Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four Privet Drive."

Book Description from GoodReads:  The Dursleys were so mean that hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike it does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageously stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone--or something--starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself?
 


My Review:  If I was stranded on a deserted island and could only choose one book series it would be Harry Potter - hands down.  For people who know me, that's not all that shocking.  I fly my Potter geek flag high.  I adore it and love the fact that Rowling jump started me back into reading back when my kids were small and I thought I had no energy to read.  Her writing is addictive to read and she has the art of bringing her readers into her magical world seamlessly.  I've read the entire series several times and enjoyed all of the movies too.  

For those of you who have only watched the movies?  You're missing out.  Sure they were amazing but some of the smaller plots were left on the cutting room floor - namely Peeves and the Headless Hunt to name just two in The Chamber of Secrets.  This unabridged e-audiobook version was the perfect way for me to get reacquainted with Potter while walking on the treadmill or driving to work.  The narrator also did a fantastic job with accents and inflections of these highly popular characters.

As usual this second book in the HP series is filled a wonderfully magical feel with vibrant and infamous characters.  We have the usual cast of characters as well as the addition on Gilderoy Lockhart who brings some humour with his fascination with ... himself.  I also enjoyed that we get a glimpse into the past of one of Harry's friends and how s/he influenced the Chamber of Secrets.  Overall, the characters themselves are well-rounded and as you progress through the series (and even within each book) you see their development as they struggle with normal tween/teen angst and a whole lot of extra Dark Lord worries t'boot.

While this book was my least favourite book in the series I still think it's a great read that pulls readers into Rowling's magical world where she vividly tells her story with humour, suspense and heart.  Readers get a better look at the link between Harry and Voldemort and we see the relationship between Harry and his friends strengthen after the horrible treatment he received from his Aunt and Uncle as well as new new issues at Hogwarts this year.

Whether you're 9 or 99 years old, if you're into fantastic world building, characters that come to life, stories about the strength of friendship, the courage to stand up for what is right, the enduring love of a mother and the fact that family is made up of not just blood but also by bonds of friendship then you've got to pick up this series.  No matter what age you are, I'm certain you'll enjoy Harry's world.  Just make sure you read them in order!

Highly recommended.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Friday, March 27, 2015

Applesauce Spice Bars

I have admittedly not been posting a lot of recipes lately.  I just haven't had the desire to try new things after having several recipes not pan out and be bloggable.  So, instead I've been enjoying reconnecting with some of my older recipes.  

The other day I looked into the fridge and found a large jar of unsweetened applesauce and suddenly had a hankering for a spice cake.  With raisins.  Yum!  This cake has a wonderful spiciness to it from cinnamon, nutmeg and a wee bit of cloves.  Add in some plump and juicy raisins and loads of applesauce to cut the fat and I think that this is a great, quick treat.  I also realize that the low-fat of the applesauce is negated by the homemade icing but, for the sake of argument, I'm going to ignore that fact and just enjoy this easy to whip up cake.  Enjoy!



3/4 cup raisins
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup applesauce (I used unsweetened)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
3/4 cup apple, peeled and finely chopped (optional)

Icing Drizzle:
1 tsp butter or margarine, softened
1 cup icing sugar
2 tsp milk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9x9-inch baking pan and set aside.

Place raising into a bowl or large measuring cup and pour boiling water over them.  Set aside.  Don't skip this step.  It really plumps up the raisins a lot.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter, brown sugar and egg until smooth.  Stir in applesauce.  

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices; stir into the applesauce mixture and mix just until blended.  Drain raisins well.  Add raisins and apple (if using) to mixture and gently fold in.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes or until edges are golden and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

When the bars have cooled prepare the icing drizzle
Push icing sugar through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl to ensure that there are no lumps.  Even small ones won't look good.  Combine all of the icing ingredients and mix.  It should be a little on the thick side.  Scoop icing into a small Ziploc bag (or an icing bag), cut a small hole in one of the bottom corners and pipe the icing over the cooled bars.  Store leftover bars in an airtight container.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Crazy Love You


Author: Lisa Unger
Genre: Suspense
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 352
Publisher: Touchstone
First Published: February 2015
First Line: "As I pulled up the long drive, deep potholes and crunching gravel beneath my wheels, towering pines above me, I was neither moved by the natural beauty nor stilled inside by the quietude."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Love hurts. Sometimes it even kills… Darkness has a way of creeping up when Ian is with Priss. Even when they were kids, playing in the woods of their small Upstate New York town, he could feel it. Still, Priss was his best friend, his salvation from the bullies who called him “loser” and “fatboy”…and from his family’s deadly secrets.

Now that they’ve both escaped to New York City, Ian no longer inhabits the tortured shell of his childhood. He is a talented and successful graphic novelist, and Priss…Priss is still trouble. The booze, the drugs, the sex—Ian is growing tired of late nights together trying to keep the past at bay. Especially now that he’s met sweet, beautiful Megan, whose love makes him want to change for the better. But Priss doesn’t like change. Change makes her angry. And when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen…
 


My Review:  After reading a blurb on this book I was eager to read it.  It sounded like a juicy, edge-of-your-seat suspenseful read.  Bring it on, Unger!

The story is ultimately about Ian and his rocky relationship with his childhood friend Priss,  the only positive thing to come out of his horrible childhood.  The story is told via flashbacks to Ian's youth where the reader gets to witness the shocking events that shaped his life and strengthened his bond with Priss, who eagerly became his avenging angel as he tried to survive childhood bullies and a very dysfunctional family life.  Priss is a complex, ambiguous and rather nasty character even though she professes to love Ian. 

As I was reading I wasn't sure if I could trust Ian as the narrator.  I believe Unger wrote it this way to increase the suspense for the reader and for the majority of the book I liked that 'not knowing' element.  It added to the suspense and learning more about Priss is what kept me going -- Was Priss a real person or something his mind imagined in order to get through the horrible childhood he had?  

Sadly, by the time I was three-quarters of the way through the book I was getting tired of reading about similar circumstances and conversations that seemed to get replayed over and over regarding the triangle of Ian, Priss and Megan, Ian's girlfriend.  I was getting a little irritated trying to figure out if Priss was real or just in Ian's imagination.  (Note: there's still one situation involving Ian and Priss that makes me scratch my head because it just didn't seem physically plausible in the end). 

It was also at this point in the book that it took on a very different feel and I didn't like it. Typically you'd think that I'd enjoy the path that the book took but not in this instance.  It led up to a very unsatisfying and weak ending.  After following all of Ian's issues it was frustrating that the ending wasn't strong.  It was ambiguous and the truth about Priss felt like a last minute cop-out to me.

I will say though that I felt the characters were well drawn out.  I may not have liked them all but they did have a troubled, chaotic authenticity to them.  From Priss and her self-involvement and anger, to Ian and his self-loathing issues to Megan who wanted to fix and take care of Ian no matter his issues, they were quite vividly described.

I've given this book a 3 star rating because, while I didn't like the ending, the book did keep my interest most of the time and the premise was quite intriguing.  Unfortunately that's as high of a rating as I can give due to the lackluster ending and the repetitive situations and conversations that made the plot seem to not have enough meat on it to sustain a whole book.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Monday, March 23, 2015

Snow Like Ashes


Author: Sara Raasch
Genre: Fantasy, Supernatural, Young Adult
Type: Hardcover
Series: 1st book in the Snow Like Ashes series
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 416
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
First Published: October 14, 2014
First Line: "Block!"

Book Description from GoodReads:  A heartbroken girl. A fierce warrior. A hero in the making.

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again.

So when scouts discover the location of the ancient locket that can restore Winter’s magic, Meira decides to go after it herself. Finally, she’s scaling towers, fighting enemy soldiers, and serving her kingdom just as she’s always dreamed she would. But the mission doesn’t go as planned, and Meira soon finds herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics – and ultimately comes to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.



My Review:  I've gotten off of my love of Young Adult reads lately but after Abby, a 16 year old Shelver at the library where I work, eagerly suggested that I read this book I decided it was time to get back on the proverbial horse.  I'm glad that I took her advice.

Admittedly, I'm not a big fantasy reader and I felt that this book started off a bit slow - actually the first half of the book went a bit slow for me.  Granted, in fantasy there is a lot of world building as well as setting up plot and introducing characters.  I admit that I tend to struggle a bit in a new fantasy read with getting the setting and world straight and it happened again with this book.  

There's a lot going on in their world.  There are eight warring factions (four are named after seasons and four are 'Rhythms' - I wasn't really clear on the Rhythms, honestly) which all have conduits that are magical items that their rulers use to help their people.  I admit that getting this squared away in my head took a bit of time.  It was just a lot of information to take in while the story got going.  Raasch thankfully gives the reader a map at the beginning of the book which details the various lands which really helped me get the gist of the political upheaval in their world.  I just wish how the author imparted this information was a little clearer.

As the reader is given more information regarding the plot the pace picks up a lot and I found myself looking forward to stolen bits of time to keep reading about Meira.  As with many YA reads there is a teaser of a love triangle but it was thankfully handled in a non-Twilight-y kind of way (ie. it isn't the main focus).  I could see how readers would have their favourites but to me Meira's choice was too obvious.  One of the boys is very much like Meira - strong, independent and pushes Meira to do the right thing.  The other is her childhood crush who, for a future king, came off a little wimpy and a lot less interesting.

Meira, on the other hand, came off as a unique, strong female main character.  Sure she's impetuous and even a little rash sometimes but her character was convincing.  She has had a tough life - orphaned at a very young age and taken in by the remaining Winterians. She constantly tries to prove herself but always seems to fall short in the eyes of the one person whose approval she wants -- her adoptive father who she calls "Sir".  This only makes Meira want to help her almost decimated realm of Winter succeed even more.

The only negatives that I have about this book is that the pace was a bit of a roller coaster ride with some scenes flying by with intense scenes and others really slow.  I also found that it was predictable in parts.  Fairly early on I guessed the big reveal but overall I still enjoyed reading the rest of the book.  I just would have preferred to be shocked by the reveal.  

I'm glad that the reader isn't left with a huge cliffhanger at the end.  Meira and her group still have a big fight ahead of them but I'm pleased that things ended the way they did in this first book.  Snow Like Ashes is a strong beginning to a new YA Fantasy series.  After reading this book I'll definitely be getting some more suggestions from the teen Shelvers at the library.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Monday, March 16, 2015

Dead Cold


Author: Louise Penny
Genre: Mystery, Canadian
Alternate Title in US: A Fatal Grace
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Series: #2 in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache mystery series
Publisher: Headline Publishing
First Published: 2006
First Line: "Had CC de Poitiers known she was going to be murdered she might have have bought her husband, Richard, a Christmas gift."

Book Description from GoodReads:  Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder.

No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. 


When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he's dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?With his trademark compassion and courage, Gamache digs beneath the idyllic surface of village life to find the dangerous secrets long buried there. For a Quebec winter is not only staggeringly beautiful but deadly, and the people of Three Pines know better than to reveal too much of themselves. But other dangers are becoming clear to Gamache. As a bitter wind blows into the village, something even more chilling is coming for Gamache himself.  

My Review:  As a proud Canadian I'm always on the lookout for 'new to me' Canadian fiction.  I had had a lot of people suggest this series to me so I finally read the first book in the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, Still Life, about a year ago.  I was pleased to see a book set in Canada with a truly small town Canadian feel to its characters and setting.  

While I enjoyed Still Life quite a bit, this book is even better.  The quirky and memorable cast of characters from Three Pines were back in this sequel that again has a uniquely Canadian feel complete with a small curling bonspiel, beautiful snowy setting and our requisite Canadian humour.  Throughout the book there are snippets of French thrown in and anyone who took French in school should easily be able to read them but even without lessons it doesn't interfere with understanding the story line.  I think it just brings a uniquely Quebecois feel to the characters.  For those who struggle with the French aspects, Penny has a website where she gives the correct pronunciations of the French phrases/words to help her more detailed readers understand every word.

One of the main differences that I found between Still Life and A Fatal Grace is that I found the mystery this time around much more compelling.  A big reason for this is that I got to know the victim better before the murder.  With the murder in Still Life we didn't really get to know the victim but in this book we see how truly horrid CC's personality was with her family and pretty much everyone she came into contact with.  Seeing her 'sparkling personality' up front helped me to understand why someone would want to harm her.  It never hurts to have the victim as someone who is so hated by pretty much everyone around her since it makes for many suspects.  

This book also had more of a CSI feel to it regarding how the victim could have been killed.  I liked how I immediately got drawn into that part of the story as I tried to figure out the 'how dunnit' as well as figure out who could have set the wheels of murder in motion.

One of the unique aspects of this series are the characters so I was thrilled to see that most of the townspeople were included in Dead Cold.  I adore Ruth and her curmudgeonly attitude and her sarcastic bantering back and forth with her Three Pines neighbours.  Gamache himself continues to be very strong and an extremely unique and well-rounded character.  I also enjoyed seeing some of Gamache's team back, specifically one of the more troublesome members of his team.  

I do have some concerns regarding how this wee town can handle so many murders and still be realistic.  Let's just say that if I lived there I'd probably pack up and move.  But I was pleased to see the addition of another story line surrounding Gamache and his suspicions regarding some people at the Surete.  It may help bring a breath of fresh air into the series but doesn't leave the reader with the dreaded cliff hanger either.  I'm eager to see how that story runs its course and hopefully it will give the reader a better look into Gamache's life. 

In the end, Louise Penny has written an intelligent, often humourous and well written mystery series with truly memorable, quirky characters.  It has a lot of heart and I'm excited to get back to Three Pines and get immersed in their issues once again.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Monday's Lie


Author: Jamie Mason
Genre: Suspense
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 304
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: February 3, 2015
First Lines: "It's funny what you remember about terrible things."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the acclaimed author of the “ripping good” (The New York Times) debut novel Three Graves Full comes a new thriller about a woman who digs into her unconventional past to confirm what she suspects: her husband isn't what she thought he was.

Dee Aldrich rebelled against her off-center upbringing when she married the most conventional man she could imagine: Patrick, her college sweetheart. But now, years later, her marriage is falling apart and she’s starting to believe that her husband has his eye on a new life... a life without her, one way or another.

Haunted by memories of her late mother Annette, a former covert operations asset, Dee reaches back into her childhood to resurrect her mother’s lessons and the “spy games” they played together, in which Dee learned memory tricks and, most importantly, how and when to lie. But just as she begins determining the course of the future, she makes a discovery that will change her life: her mother left her a lot of money and her own husband seems to know more about it than Dee does. Now, before it’s too late, she must investigate her suspicions and untangle conspiracy from coincidence, using her mother’s advice to steer her through the blind spots. The trick, in the end, will be in deciding if a “normal life” is really what she wants at all.

With pulse-pounding prose and atmospheric settings, Monday’s Lie is a thriller that delivers more of the “Hitchcockian menace” (Peter Straub) that made Three Graves Full a critical hit. For fans of the Coen brothers or Gillian Flynn, this is a book you won’t want to miss.


Disclaimer:  My sincere thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:   I eagerly requested to review this book because, let's face it, the premise is awesome - a mom covertly teaching her kids to read people and situations and teaching them survival skills using fun games so that the kids didn't realize what they were learning to do.  Years later the daughter uses these skills to find out more about her suspicions involving her husband.  Cool idea, right?

Unfortunately, instead of the 'pulse-pounding and atmospheric settings' that is claimed in the write up on this book it felt more like a book about family dynamics and relationships written in a very muddled way.  The story was slow to take off and no real energy or suspense was felt until right at the end.  And even when it did pick up it petered off again finishing with a lackluster ending. In fact, I have to admit that I struggled to finish this book over a couple of weeks of picking it up and putting it down.

I think the problem stems with the book feeling very wordy yet there's not a lot of movement in the plot.  I never really felt like I knew enough about the dynamics of Patrick and Dee's marriage except for the issue between Patrick and Dee (something Dee did that Patrick cannot let go) that is rehashed over and over by Patrick.  It became frustrating to read and felt more like plot filler.  

Also, the back and forth storytelling from Annette's past (Dee's mother) and Dee's current situation also hindered the pace of the plot.  And even with this peek into Annette's past the reader still doesn't get a good look into what exactly she did.  I think that view would have given the reader a better understanding of Dee's life growing up in a household with a mom who has an unusual and dangerous job.

In the end I wasn't impressed with this book. I was expecting it to be a riveting read but it fell flat for me.  The premise was strong and intriguing but the execution left me wanting a lot more out of this book.     

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Air Travel Etiquette 101

As we approach March Break I think this is a good time to share my thoughts on appropriate airplane etiquette.  If you have some time off and extra money (what's that?!) you may be planning a vacation.  If so, you're among the lucky ones so let's make the best of it.

Flying can be enjoyable with a few rules in place.  Let's face it, unless you're in First Class (I've only been in that nirvana once in my life) you're stuck in the back of the plane with a whole lot of strangers in a loud tin can hurtling through the air with only overpriced food (unless you bring your own), some semi-decent movies, tiny seats and recycled air.  Not my idea of a good time but if living through this gets me to paradise I'm game. 
Image Source: http://www.clipartlord.com/category/transportation-clip-art/airplane-clip-art/page/2/


I have done my fair share of flying and over the years and I've come to realize that there needs to be some rules for an enjoyable flight.  Last week, as we flew home from Florida, there were a few people who needed to be caught up on my list of rules.  I realize that we're all in a small space for several hours and that we don't have to be BFFs, braid each other's hair and sing Kumbaya on the flight but how about we get there without any major issues or someone being thrown in jail for mouthing off to the flight attendants, shall we?

In the same vein as my Grocery Store Etiquette 101 here is a list of things that tick me off and make air travel less than enjoyable.  

Image Source: https://travelsecretsmag.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/
q-how-to-be-an-annoying-airline-passenger/

If you want to have a nice flight with yours truly please don't do the following things ....

1. Push your seat waaaay back so it's in my face the entire flight.  I know it's your seat and you paid for it but c'mon!  Not only does this make me even more claustrophobic I'm not sure why the seats even have to go back so far.  How about we all put our seats back half way?

2. The parents who can't make up their minds who wants to hold the baby.  Hint: it's NOT me.  Last year Missy Moo and I sat near a young family on the three hour flight from Florida.  The wife sat in front of her husband with their baby on her lap and their toddler beside her.  The husband (who apparently won the coin toss) sat beside me with no kids in tow.  Cute family ... until the parents couldn't decide who was going to hold the baby and back and forth over the seats went the baby.  It was like ping pong baby style.  Gah!  Pick the parent and stick with it.  I'm pretty sure that after that particular flight my ovaries voluntarily dried up.

3. Bathroom hogs.  I'm not sure if some people are aiming for the infamous Mile High Club, having a little spa time in the world's smallest lavatory or just being inconsiderate but tick tock buddy.  Do the math - two bathrooms and a whole gaggle of people means do your bidness and get out!

4. The Head Leaner.  I don't care if Paul Anka himself is singing the song in your ear - do not put your head on my shoulder.  I know it's tight and we're all tired but if you get the middle or aisle seats keep your head in the upright position until we land.

5. The Arm Rest Hog.  Some people get to their seat and stake a claim on the arm rest like it's 1862 and we've just landed in the Nebraska territory.  Let's all just agree to share or take turns, shall we?  It's but a wee piece of plastic separating us.  This way it doesn't end up being a confrontation like the Hatfields and the McCoys in mid air.

6. The Lady Who Stands Up As Soon As The Seat Belt Light Is Off At The End of The Flight Only To Stand in The Aisle With Her Butt In My Face For 20 Minutes.  What's the rush people?  Do you think that as soon as the plane lands and the seat belt light dings off that you'll be able to scale the sides of the plane and miraculously exit before the other 150 passengers ahead of you??  No. The answer is no.  So why not just sit in your seat, finish off that sudoku puzzle you're having trouble with and wait as people leave in a relatively orderly, yet oh so disheveled, fashion.  

Note: To the lady who stood with her butt in my face pushing on the top of my seat for 20 minutes last week on the tarmac in Toronto?  You suck.

7. Pass the gas mask.  Whether it's an overabundance of perfume (what body odor are you trying to mask with that particular scent, madame??), raging bad breathe or the traditional B.O let's all try to do our best to remain as scentless as possible for the flight.  The air masks are only for emergencies and an overabundance of Shalimar on your seat mate doesn't count as an emergency apparently.

8. The People Who Block the Aisle For 10 Minutes while they try to get their carry-ons into the compartment.  Once again, on our trip home from Florida some lovely passengers seemed to think there was some perfect way to get their carry-on luggage into their overhead compartments and that the 120 people behind them loved standing in the aisles holding their carry-ons for 10 minutes.  It's not rocket science.  Put bag in cubbie.  Close door.  Sit your butt down!

9. Seat Kicker.  If you don't want to feel my eyes rolling in their sockets and a whole lotta sighing and shuffling going on in my seat ahead of you (the Canadian way to deal with Seat Kickers) do not kick or pull my seat or otherwise make me aware of that you even exist behind me.  Note: This rule also goes for movie theatres.  Do not kick my seat.

10. Bad Attitude.  Party of one!  The flight attendants are there to help make your trip as comfortable as possible and to ensure that everyone on board is safe.  This does not mean that they are solely there to serve just you Mr 27A and your affinity for gingerale every half hour or you Ms 36E who complains ad nauseam about the flight being delayed nor does it allow you to berate them with your attitude and condescension.  Be nice!

So, overall my list isn't that long but if it's followed air flight can be enjoyable for all involved.  Do you think that Air Canada will add my list to their in-flight video?  Probably not but a girl can dream.

Have a safe and wonderful March Break next week!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Nightingale


Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Type: Hardcover
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 448
Publisher: St Martin's Press
First Published: February 2015
First Line: "If I have learned anything in this long life of mine it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are."

Book Description from GoodReads:  In love we find out who we want to be.
In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France...but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When France is overrun, Vianne is forced to take an enemy into her house, and suddenly her every move is watched; her life and her child’s life is at constant risk. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates around her, she must make one terrible choice after another. 

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets the compelling and mysterious Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can...completely. When he betrays her, Isabelle races headlong into danger and joins the Resistance, never looking back or giving a thought to the real--and deadly--consequences.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah takes her talented pen to the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France--a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.


Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review:  As many of my followers know I'm an avid reader of WWII fiction so it takes a great book to grab my attention with its story, characters and emotion.  It was such a horrible time in history that brought out the worst in people.  But it also showed that even through the devastation people demonstrated great strength, pride, love and honour.

Let me start by saying that I'm not a mushy person.  It is a rare book that has been able to squeeze a tear or two out of me much less get me to have a lump the size of Texas in my throat.  I have a heart (trust me) but it takes some awesome writing to make me feel deeply about the characters and pull the emotion out of me.  I can now add The Nightingale to the small list of books that 'made me quietly sob like a baby'.  But it wasn't all mushiness, in fact the majority of this book focused on Vianne and Isabelle as they struggle in their own ways to deal with the effects of the Nazi occupation of their small town and country in general.

I've read books by Kristen Hannah many, many years ago and had a vague memory of enjoying her style of writing.  This book took on a whole different tone than I was expecting - and I really enjoyed it.  It's not a fast moving book per se (it actually took me quite a bit to get into it) but once you get involved in the lives of these two sisters and their different experiences, feelings and reactions of living through Nazi occupied France it was hard to stop reading.  Plus, getting a closer look at the French Resistance during this time was definitely eye opening and it was amazing to see the lengths that some of the French went to in order to thwart Hitler's plans.

While this book is set during the tumultuous and horrific backdrop of WWII, at its core it is a book about family relationships, finding personal strength and unlikely heroes as well as the roles women played in the French resistance to the Nazi invasion.  This is well-written, thought provoking and emotional read. 

Recommended.

My Rating: 4 stars (the ending I'd give 4.5 stars)

Favourite QuoteIf I have learned anything in this long life of mine it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Only Time Will Tell


Author: Jeffrey Archer
Genre: Historical Fiction, Family Saga
Series: #1 in the Clifton Family Chronicles
Type: Hardcover
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 400
Publisher:  St Martin's Press
First Published: August 2011
First Line: "This story would never had been written if I hadn't become pregnant."

Book Description from GoodReads:  From the internationally bestselling author of Kane and Abel and A Prisoner of Birth comes Only Time Will Tell, the first in an ambitious new series that tells the story of one family across generations, across oceans, from heartbreak to triumph.

The epic tale of Harry Clifton’s life begins in 1920, with the words “I was told that my father was killed in the war.” A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father, but he learns about life on the docks from his uncle, who expects Harry to join him at the shipyard once he’s left school. But then an unexpected gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys’ school, and his life will never be the same again.

As he enters into adulthood, Harry finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question, was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore who spent his whole life on the docks, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line?

This introductory novel in Archer’s ambitious series The Clifton Chronicles includes a cast of colorful characters and takes us from the ravages of the Great War to the outbreak of the Second World War, when Harry must decide whether to take up a place at Oxford or join the navy and go to war with Hitler’s Germany. From the docks of working-class England to the bustling streets of 1940 New York City, Only Time Will Tell takes readers on a journey through to future volumes, which will bring to life one hundred years of recent history to reveal a family story that neither the reader nor Harry Clifton himself could ever have imagined.


My Review:  I'm always on the hunt for a big, sweeping family saga.  Something to lose myself in as I read about the foibles, backstabbing and general issues in the characters' lives.  After having a library customer suggest this series I decided to pick it up and ended up enjoying it quite a bit.

This first book in the series has a lot going for it.  It's set in an interesting era (begins in 1920's England), it has multiple story lines and a cast of characters that keep it interesting.  The writing style was an interesting choice but I'm not sure that I'm a fan of it.  Archer gives his reader a look at the same circumstance via different points of view of several of his characters.  Even though each character added a little bit of their own insight into the situations it still felt like I was re-reading the plot and it ended up feeling a little redundant.  Perhaps it could have been done in a different way to keep the momentum up and to give the reader a little more to work with.

The plot itself was a little predictable with soap opera-like twists but enjoyable nonetheless.  Archer's writing has a certain ease to it which makes this book a good, relaxing read.  In the end this was an enjoyable start to a series.  The ending makes the reader want to pick up the next book in this series soon. 

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Girl on the Train


Author: Paula Hawkins
Genre: Suspense
Type: Trade Paperback
Source: Local Public Library
Pages: 316
Publisher:  Doubleday Canada
First Published: January 2015
First Line: "Rachel - Friday, 5 July 2013 Morning -- There is a pile of clothing on the side of the train tracks."

Book Description from GoodReads:  A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone GirlThe Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.
 



My Review:  Normally I'm a little hesitant to jump wholeheartedly into a book that has so much acclaim so quickly.  I'm always afraid that the book won't live up to my heightened expectations - which sadly is often the case.  

As an avid reader I've read a lot of suspense and I can't help that my mind is constantly trying to find little clues throughout the text so I can solve the crime sooner than the author wants it revealed.  I'm a Sherlock Holmes wannabe.  I had a hard time being the amateur sleuth this time because the author has written such complex characters, each with their own baggage and plausible motives that I kept changing my mind as to who was the culprit.

Hawkins also kept my interest throughout (no small feat) with all of the red herrings that she threw at me.  I admit that I guessed 'who dunnit' about three quarters of the way through but, that said, I also guessed a handful of people before that so I suppose my 'guess' wasn't 'right' per se as it was eventual.

This book has been compared to Gone Girl and Before I Go To Sleep but I think that The Girl on the Train was a much better read than both of those books and that has a lot to do with the characters.  The story is told from three points of view - Rachel, Megan and Anna.  Each of these women have certain likable traits and many traits that were quite repellent and offensive.  Normally if the main characters are totally unlikable (ie Gone Girl) I have a hard time getting behind them.  I don't want to read about someone who has no redeeming qualities.  That wasn't the case with this book.  Hawkin's characters were very layered and defined even if some of their choices (namely Rachel's decision to keep her nose in things) were a little questionable/naive.  But as you see what these women have lived through the reason for their choices becomes clearer.

This book is a very impressive debut thriller with complex characters all with their own secrets to hide.  It goes to show that you should never assume you know a person and also gives you the eerie feeling that you can't trust anyone.  This was quite an addicting read.  Hats off to Ms Hawkins for keeping my wandering mind solidly on her plot and interesting character choices. 

My Rating: 4/5 stars

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